A Better Way to Engage Prospects: How getting sales and marketing on the same page boosts results

Many years ago, I led the marketing function for a highly successful professional service IT consulting organization. We quickly grew from less than 10 million in revenue to more than 100 million. I was proud of my team of six and we worked very hard and had a lot of success — or so I thought.

These are the confessions of a marketing junkie. I believe in the old adage – MIA (Marketing Impacts All). But I also see many people in marketing leadership roles making the kinds of mistakes that I used to make.

When the marketing function operates in a silo, completely independent of the sales function in particular, marketing becomes MIA — missing in action. More importantly, the business suffers because it misses opportunities that can only come from marketing and sales working together.

If your organization is struggling to bring fruitful alignment between the sales and marketing functions, then these lessons learned will really help.

Different agendas and different sales funnels

The great awakening came for me about 15 years ago when I went from being a division head of marketing to being a CEO. Suddenly, I began to view marketing expenditures in a whole new light. I needed to see a real return on every dollar we spent on marketing. The nature of that return had to be new clients and new revenue. Period.

In my mind, the day-to-day activity of the marketing and sales functions at my business had to be united in this one goal. This was a radical shift in mindset from where I had been just a year earlier.

During this time, I remember thinking back to statements I used to make like “marketing isn’t sales you know, we’re different” and “sales focuses on short-term revenue and client management, but marketing focuses on long-term strategy and brand development” and “marketing can generate leads, but we can’t close deals because that’s sales’ job.”

These are valid statements and true to the differing missions of the marketing and sales functions. But too often, if I’m being honest, they were excuses for not collaborating closely enough with the sales function because of the real underlying cause — my insecurity that we could not demonstrate a real impact on the sales funnel.

I used to believe that marketing had no obligation to, or even any business meddling with, the sales funnel. This, I used to believe, was exclusively the domain of the sales function. Marketing’s job was to build and maintain the brand and create awareness with those who potentially would someday choose us. Yes, we generated leads, but if they didn’t close, that was a sales problem not a marketing problem.

This point of view had a major impact on my day-to-day activity. Most of the time, I motivated my team of six to produce the best ads they could possibly produce. Our website always looked great. We managed outstanding tradeshows that made the company look good, especially when the CEO came by the booth. Our direct mail campaigns were snappy and evocative. I was proud of the work that we were doing and we had proof that it was high-impact. We won marketing awards.

I have a different perspective now.

The same sales funnel

I believe today’s marketers have to acknowledge two fundamental principles:

  • All of the traditional marketing responsibilities remain ours: Go-to-market strategy, brand management and lead generation to name a few.
  • But now, marketing must be accountable to impact the sales funnel in very real and measurable ways.

This means that marketing and sales must operate from the same playbook regarding the sales funnel, which is comprised of four stages:

  1. Awareness. Where prospective clients become aware of your brand and services.
  2. Interest. Where they express an interest in your services and enter serious sales dialogue, ultimately requesting a proposal.
  3. Evaluation. Where they evaluate your proposal against competitive proposals and against their needs and budget.
  4. Selection. Where they select your brand and authorize the scope of work.

Why should marketing change?

In the past, marketing may have added enough value to any business by building strategy, managing the brand and generating leads. But the world has forever changed in three key ways:

  • The power of information control has shifted to the buyer. In the past, if you wanted information on products and services, you had to speak with a sales person and wait for a brochure to arrive in the mail. Today, that same information is ubiquitously available on the Internet 24 hours a day and requires no conversation.
  • Sales dialogue has shifted to much later in the sales funnel. Now, invisible users interact with your brand through your website, social media and emails that are forwarded to them. And you may not even know about it. Often, they will make a decision about whether or not to engage in dialogue with you and you won’t even know it. When they do engage in dialogue, they are much further along in the sales funnel and far more knowledgeable about your products and services.
  • Traditional advertising and brand awareness tactics have been replaced by content marketing. This means that the proof is now in the pudding. The claims of advertising (we’re the best at X) are no longer credible. But great content that puts your expertise on display is very credible and the most likely stimulant of forward movement in the sales funnel.

Given these changes, the question becomes — how does marketing best impact the sales funnel and how can marketing unequivocally prove this impact?

Content marketing plus marketing automation

Today’s content marketing strategies do a good job of placing prospects in the top of the sales funnel — the awareness stage. But this is merely an important first step. Everyone knows the top of the funnel is large and full of all sorts of people, many of whom will never buy your products and services. It would be a waste of your sales people’s time to ask them to follow-up with everyone in the top of the funnel.

How can you get those few real prospective buyers, those who have need, budget and a timeframe in which they must act, to raise their hand and opt-in to serious sales dialogue?

This is where marketing automation systems, particularly those with lead scoring, are worth their weight in gold. Why? Because they can automatically pull real prospects through the sales funnel and cue them up for serious sales conversations. Better yet, they provide the proof that marketers have long lacked about impact on the sales funnel.

Here is an example.

  • Let’s assume you invite via email 1,000 people to attend a content-oriented webinar on a topic that matters to them. Let’s call the webinar “10 Steps to Achieving the Big Goal.”
  • Let’s assume that 200 people register and 100 people attend the webinar.

In the past, you would have been stuck right here, now knowing whom, among the 100 people, are serious potential buyers or time wasters. You had two choices: wait for them to engage you in sales dialogue or try to engage all of them. Neither option is attractive.

There is a better way. Let’s say you’ve taken a new view of things. You now esteem the 100 people who registered for your webinar to have raised their hand, just a little bit. It’s not a full on “I want to talk to you.” It’s more like “I’m listening.” They have shown an openness to your messages. Now try these steps:

  • Put all 100 into an automated email campaign that requires a series of clicks over a short period of time, say two to three weeks.
  • Make each new email valuable. Offer a new piece of content, like a checklist or a step-by-step guide related to “The Big Goal” webinar.
  • Along the way, make sure you set expectations about the amount of budget that’s required to accomplish “The Big Goal.”
  • Make your final email an offer to schedule a free consultation to assess how ready they are to accomplish “The Big Goal.” This isn’t a sales call. It’s an assessment that shows where they are compared to other companies and to best practices.

This approach consistently produces outstanding results for our clients. Why? Only those who have need will take the time to go through this process. Only those who have budget will request the consultation because you’ve already set expectations along the way. Only those who have a timeframe to act will opt into the assessment.

Best of all, with marketing automation, you can see exactly who is proceeding through the sales funnel and watch every step they take. As a marketer, you can then prove, beyond a doubt, that your efforts contributed to the new client and revenue. Pretty sweet, huh?

About the author
Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms. You can reach him at his website http://www.theshattuckgroup.com.

3 Responses to A Better Way to Engage Prospects: How getting sales and marketing on the same page boosts results

  1. jandrews July 13, 2013 at 6:09 am #

    As a traditional marketer from the days of ink and paper, I perused you post with interst. The bullet list starts with an “email campaign that requires a series of clicks” You can put this in the “duh” category, but what does that mean/include/entail? Examples appreciated.

    • rshattuck July 15, 2013 at 8:41 am #

      What I am referring to here has to do with marketing automation. Think of it this way. In the old days, we used to run a series of direct mail campaigns where we would send, say, 6 pieces of direct mail to the same audience trying to entice them to call us and request more information about our products. Usually this campaign was sent to a “cold” list – meaning there was not an established business relationship between those on the list and our business.

      With marketing automation, you can do the same thing but by way of email and with “warm lists” – where they have already leaned into you and shown some level of interest. The idea is that you create a series of messages before you send them and then cue them up in your marketing automation system so they are ready to go once people sign up for a webinar or white paper. This is your built-in follow-up and it assumes you understand the behavior you want to shape before you elicit the behavior from your audience.

      The series of clicks occur as the marketing automation system broadcasts your messages to your audience. Each successive email should offer something that create a clickable event so you can track the clicks – which, most importantly, are indications of interest and leaning in behavior.

      Your final email to this audience is the offer for a consultation.

      Clear as mud?

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